Are inspections by the Fire Services part of a systematic and regular review exercise?

Fire security in retail chains

Several months ago there was a fire in the Shoprite outlet at Trianon, in which there was the unfortunate loss of the life of one employee. The incident was naturally given wide publicity in the media, and subsequently an investigation was carried out which showed that there were some gaps in the requirements relating to fire security according to the criteria of the Mauritius Fire and Rescue Services (MFRS).

There was also speculation about whether that outlet would open again, and when. After a period of lull on this front, a few weeks ago a picture in a local daily showed the MFRS present at that Shoprite outlet. The visual showed the damaged area. This was followed by subsequent inspections of the MFRS at other Shoprite outlets in the region of Black River and Port Louis to check on the fire and security measures in place. A couple of weeks later it was reported that the Winner’s chain was going to take over the Trianon outlet. Is this mere coincidence?

The MFRS has also cancelled mandatory Fire Certificate of two Dream Price outlets, pending measures they must put into place before they are given a security clearance.

We can understand that government institutions would want to demonstrate that they are and remain committed to their declared mission, and in the case of the Mauritius Fire and Rescue Services that of “protecting and reducing the losses of life and property”. That however should warrant proactive and pre-emptive measures before disaster occurs, resulting in loss of lives – and to be followed by riots in some cases like road accidents.

Although the public and frequent visitors to ALL supermarkets and shopping malls will welcome these and more frequent inspections by the Fire Services to ensure their safety – or at least that evacuation procedures are in place and can be safely relied upon should any accident happen, one cannot help wondering why this sudden interest of MFRS in conducting inspections that get widely reported.

We would like to think the MFRS has gone round to ensure that security procedures are well in place and adhered to by all business concerns and industrial enterprises, but we have not heard or seen any such enthusiasm being displayed when it comes to branches of other supermarket chains around the island.

It would be interesting to learn from the MFRS about the status of fire security, for example, in a well-known supermarket situated in Port Louis city centre where customers have to jostle in the constrained space available. This raises the issue of security there, as well as in all similar outlets irrespective of who their owners are before there is a repeat of the kind of tragedy that took place at the Shoprite Trianon outlet.  

The Mauritius Fire and Rescue Services could also inform the public about whether its inspections are part of a systematic and regular review exercise. A Parliamentary Question will help to inform the public about what’s being undertaken to protect lives and property.

* * *

Library opening hours at the university of Mauritius

From a news report about the opening hours of the library at the University of Mauritius we learn that the library will close at 5 p.m. instead of 7 p.m. as had been the case until recently. Apparently the Student’s Union was not consulted in this regard, and the students carried out a sit-in and are threatening another one.

This decision has been taken, according to the University authorities as reported, because UOM conducted a study over a few months which revealed that after 5 p.m. there are only about 10 students who are there in the library, and given this small number they have been advised to use the e-library.

This is a paradoxical situation, because more and more as we all know the tendency is away from the use of printed matter and to shift to electronic media. So the fact that students are doing sit-ins to have the use of a traditional library may be looked upon as a positive thing perhaps! The problem in Mauritius is that none of the tertiary educational institutions is a residential one; this fact, coupled with the problem of transport, perhaps has something to do with the fact that so few students stay back to use the library. Given that UOM has to abide by public sector working conditions, it probably has to pay overtime to staff remaining to man the library after normal working hours, which could be part of the explanation for not opening it for extended hours.

An alternative, perhaps, would be to open it to the public after working hours, since the UOM is a national resource, against a fee which would then help to cover any extra costs incurred in after hours opening. Elsewhere there are whole university towns where commute is provided to students till late in the night so that they can use the library. That is an unforgettable and most enriching part of university experience, and it’s a pity that it cannot be fully replicated here.

Another issue that has caused concern at the UOM is the alleged leakage of questions to some law students. After conducting an internal enquiry, UOM authorities have concluded that there has been no irregularity. We learn that this is not likely to satisfy students.

This is not to question the integrity of whoever had been targeted by some students for the alleged leakage – in fact the UOM has not confirmed or denied if there had been any leakage at all. It is to be hoped that such is indeed not the case for the good repute of this public tertiary institution. Perhaps it would have been better to have a formal police investigation, which only can put all fears to rest.

* Published in print edition on 10 August 2018

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